Foolz Tour IV aka Desert Therapy in South Central Utah

Southern Utah Packrafting / Bikepacking

Words & Photos by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder // @republicofdoom

Say you were given the unfortunate choice of having only one place in the world to explore in your life; what would it be? Not a scenario that I would ever want to settle for, but if forced my answer would come without hesitation. Southern Utah.

After nearly 20 years of living in the desert Southwest, I am continually awed by the intricacies of its impossibly complicated landscape. This place can cradle you like a baby or torture you relentlessly.

On any given trip you may find yourself in calm serene pools of crystal clear water surrounded by budding cottonwood trees or, around the next bend, the wind might unleash a mental and physical beating of unbelievable force.

You can look out from a high point and find your destination seemingly only a few miles away, yet it may take hours or even days to navigate the maze of canyons hiding below the rim. It’s a mysterious place full of forgotten corners, lost arrowheads, baffling rock art, and it pulls at my soul in ways I can’t describe.

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

The Foolz Tour is an annual pilgrimage to places like these, on and around April Fools Day. Human-powered travel and having maximum fun are the only hard rules we follow.

Over the years this has taken many forms: packrafts, bikes, crawling on hands and knees, and technical climbing endeavors. 2017 was a painful mix of all the above, with parts bad weather, mental hurdles, and an unsurprisingly sandbagged itinerary. Two new foolz were indoctrinated into the fold Ashley and Cara. Returning members included Andy, Jon, and myself—all original cast members.

Southern Utah Packrafting / Bikepacking
The Crew. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter vibes are strong with these ones (plus a Windrider). And yes, you can ride a bike with one on.

Just Another Foolz Errand

On March 25th 2017 we took one last look at the weather and set off. The forecast seemed questionable for the whole beginning and middle portion of the trip, but our bags were packed and our rendezvous was set. Under darkening skies we set off for nine days of desert travel hoping the weather would hold and our food cache would still be buried safely in the sand.

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

Our first mission was to ride down to the Dirty Devil River, where we would transform into amphibious mode and packraft through the canyon looking for climbing objectives. Desert towers are always on my list, and I had a few new places to explore. The weather cooperated for the moment and we were able to summit a great, albeit short new sandstone choss tower. More packrafting saw us exiting the canyon, and we transferred back into biking mode for a few days of mixed pavement, dirt, sand, and junior varsity bike slogging.

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

Our next objective was to connect canyons via a longish four-hour paddle across Lake Powell.  By then the weather had caught up to us; we sat the night out in a tiny scraped-out bivy, inside a cramped cave, while a ground blizzard of sand and rain hammered the canyon floor. To our surprise the next morning presented a lull in the storm that allowed us safe passage across the committing expanses of Lake Powell.

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

Our spirits we high after a long yet uneventful crossing, and we eagerly built up our bikes in preparation for what looked like a great ride up canyon. I predicted it would take an hour or two to ride it, but as mentioned earlier, the desert sometimes has other ideas.

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

About a quarter-mile up canyon we ran into the first many endless tiers of manky beaver ponds, choked with willows. Forward progress came to an abrupt halt while we searched for an alternative exit, but I was struck with an epiphany: “we need to find a giant culvert to bivy in tonight.”

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

My outburst was met with questionable looks from my companions as we continued to slog out the festering tepid water full of punji sticks. Hours later we found ourselves on the paved road near Ticaboo, another cold storm baring down on us. Culvert camp was becoming a reality, and just before dark we ducked off the road and into the “Mother of all Culverts.”

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

After a dreamy night of being cradled in the bowels of the earth by a giant metal tube, we were “ready” to attack the third and final leg of the tour, a tricky decent to the edge of Good Hope Bay, and another long packraft crossing. The old cattelman’s trail here is hard to follow and super exposed, but we were treated to the best weather of the trip, and it almost felt a bit anticlimactic to be crossing the glassy water at sunset, shirtless, and unworried about where the hell my headlamp might be packed. Camp was minutes away and the shore was lined with decades of driftwood to help dry out our soggy everything. We had endured some rough times on this trip but our final camp was not one of them.

Numbers

200 ish miles
9 days
3 packrafting segments of about 35 total miles
2 first ascents
1 other human we spoke with along the way
90 dollars we gave that human for junk food
1 derailleur torn off bike
0 mutinies

Southern Utah Packrafting + Bikepacking

Read more about Doom and his exploits on his ambassador page.